Google Cloud exec laments delayed enterprise focus and chasing competition in farewell post

Former Google Cloud product management lead Amir Hermelin has said the company’s two biggest mistakes were spending too much time chasing Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure – and taking too long to realise the value of the enterprise market.

Hermelin, who had been on Google’s cloud team since mid-2012 – in other words, 18 months before Google Compute Engine became generally available – took to Medium to deliver a valedictory post explaining the trends he had seen and what he thought the future would hold.

By all accounts Google today occupies the bronze medal position in the cloud behemoth market, naturally behind AWS and Azure. According to the most recent figures from Synergy Research, Google is positioned at #3 overall and in every geography bar Asia Pacific, where it ranks #4 with Alibaba taking second place.

The past year and a half has seen significant efforts from Google in the cloud arena. As this publication noted in March 2017 reporting on Diane Greene’s Next keynote, the new customers announced seemed to represent a step up from what had gone previously. Colgate-Palmolive, eBay and Verizon were all members of the Fortune 500. Previously, Google’s ‘poster child’ for its cloud suites was Snapchat – an interesting company to tell for sure, but without the oomph of the former three.

Hermelin noted both points as key to Google’s first ‘meaningful’ mistake. “We were led by very smart engineering managers that held tenures of 10+ years at Google, so that’s what grew their careers and that’s what they were familiar with,” he wrote. “Seeing success with Snapchat and the likes, and lacking enough familiarity with the enterprise space, it was easy to focus away from ‘large orgs.’

“This included insufficient investments in marketing, sales, support, and solutions engineering, resulting in the aforementioned being inferior compared to the competitors.”

When it came to those competitors, Hermelin argued it clouded the company’s judgement. Google was particularly ahead of the curve when it came to containers and serverless, and wasted valuable time building features to ape AWS – albeit features their customers had requested.

“Our native internal way of running things – containers – was to take a backseat for a few years, until a small startup by the name of Docker managed to hype up containers enough to make them relevant,” Hermelin wrote. “Google took notice, and the rest is history.

“Another example is App Engine – predating today’s ‘serverless’ hotness by a few years, and arguably a successful business even back then. Neither AWS or Azure had anything like it, but we had to divert too many resources to satisfy customers that were asking for features similar to what our competitors offered at the time,” he added.

In some areas, this may still be the case. Take the launch back in August of Cloud HSM, a managed cloud-hosted hardware security module service which enabled customers to host encryption keys and perform cryptographic operations at level 3 or the FIPS 140-2 standard. This appeared to be a missing feature in Google’s arsenal compared with AWS and Azure. Yet in some areas, such as machine learning, Google aims to forge ahead, launching pre-packaged AI services around contact centre and talent acquisition in the same month.

Hermelin admitted he would ‘crack up’ at thoughts Google was no longer innovative. “The most important field in tech today – machine learning – is led by Google, which is several years ahead of its nearest competition,” he wrote. “In the field of AI/ML, nobody comes close… not in technology and not in the raw numbers of quality engineering talent.”

Regardless, there has been a significant climb from Google Cloud in recent months and years. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said earlier this year the company’s cloud arm was securing ‘larger and more strategic’ deals, defined at $500,000 or more. Among the blue chip customers secured this year were PwC, Spotify, and Apple.

Hermelin did not specify his new destination, aside from calling it a ‘high-risk high-reward opportunity with a company that’s disrupting personal finance.’ You can read his full Medium post here.

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